The Problems of Political Spam

There are many problems with political spam email. Perhaps the most well known one is that Congress, in passing the CAN-SPAM Act, decided to exempt political messages from any forms of legal accountability. And so the only practical limit on political spam is the public’s willingness to shame candidates. Here’s an example worth shaming, sent on to me by a colleague.

If you get political spam from McCain, and want to opt out, here are your options.


Notice that all of them imply that you support or have supported McCain! They are:

-I am a McCain Supporter but don’t wish to be contacted until closer to the election.
-I am a McCain Supporter but I am receiving too many emails. Please only send me newsletters and urgent alerts.
-I am a McCain Supporter but do not wish to receive email any longer.
-I am no longer a McCain Supporter and want to be taken off the email list.

They should add an option for me that reads:

-I never signed up for your stupid email list. I never supported you, except when you passed McCain-Feingold, and I’d vote for Tina Fey before Sarah Palin. Please take me off your list.


  1. I have a better option they should add:
    “This is an unsolicited e-mail, neither do I currently, nor ever wish to receive it, in fact, any sympathy I had for your candidacy prior to this unsolicited e-mail is perhaps now completely gone.”

  2. Anonymous

    The reason for exempting Political and Religious spam is so the law would withstand prima facia First Amendment tests.

  3. D. C. Sessions

    The reason for exempting Political and Religious spam is so the law would withstand prima facia First Amendment tests.

    I’ll leave a detailed analysis to someone who doesn’t preface his posts with IANAL. That said, and recalling that IANAL, the rule is:

    Time, place, and manner.

    Laws against disturbing the peace don’t have to have exemptions for Church-based sound trucks cruising the streets before dawn on Sundays cranking out Good News to the neighborhood at 150 dBA. Laws against graffiti don’t have to have exemptions for campaign slogans. And so on.

    Laws against mailbox flooding wouldn’t need exemptions for privileged classes of sewage if they didn’t get into content-based tests for “is this crap.” On the other hand, if they do make content-based distinctions, priviledging some colors of fecal matter over others may not pass Constitutional muster either. After all, “freedom of speech” is not restricted to only religious or political speech.

    So what you’re looking at is an excuse, not a reason.

  4. @Anonymous, what D.C. Sessions said.

    And, Congress has successfully regulated political/religious speech. For instance, junk faxes are prohibited, even by political or religious senders. Congress could have carefully crafted some rules for email but didn’t.

  5. That list of options reminds me of the classic question, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” (To which a decent person cannot answer “yes” or “no” and must resort to “mu”.)

  6. Random comment. Tina Fey is stellarly hot & awesome. I think I’m in love with her Liz Lemon character on 30 Rock. Melt.

  7. Quick somewhat-related question: does anyone know a good way to opt out of political snail-mail spam? I’m sick and tired of getting postcard after postcard from local incumbents scrabbling desperately to hang onto their position.

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